A Time to Every Purpose: Letters to a Young Jew by Jonathan D Sarna

By Jonathan D Sarna

At the flip of the twenty-first century, the important query confronting Jewish leaders in the United States is easy:

Why be Jewish?

Jonathan D. Sarna, acclaimed pupil of yank Judaism, believes that “Why be Jewish?” is the inaccurate query. Judaism, he believes, isn't really loads a “why” as a way—a lifestyle, a manner of marking time, a manner of with regards to the surroundings, to people, to kinfolk, and to God. Judaism is skilled via doing—doing issues Jewish, doing issues for fellow Jews in want, doing issues as a Jew to enhance the country of the realm. The extra Judaism one does, the extra one involves have fun with what Judaism is.

Using the Jewish calendar as his start line, Sarna displays at the significant issues of Jewish existence as expressed in an entire yr of holidays—from Passover within the spring to Purim 11 months later. Passover, for example, yields a dialogue of freedom; Shavuot, a dialogue of Torah; Yom Kippur, the position of the person in the Jewish neighborhood; Chanukah, problems with assimilation and anti-assimilation.

An crucial short introduction—or reintroduction—to the most important practices of Jewish lifestyles in addition to the various complexities of the yankee Jewish adventure, this publication may be crucial studying for American Jews and the appropriate reward for the vacation season.

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Sample text

Some Jewish leaders opposed having a special day to commemorate the Holocaust. The Jewish calendar hardly lacks for the remembrance of tragedies, they pointed out. To their mind, the Holocaust differed from previous persecutions only in degree but was rooted in the same ageold hatred. They proposed instead to add Holocaust themes to an existing memorial day: either the major fast day of the Ninth of Av (Tishah be-Av) in summer, when so many other Jewish tragedies are recalled, or the halfforgotten minor fast day of the Tenth of Tevet, in winter, commemorating the start of the siege of Jerusalem by Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar more than twenty-five hundred years ago.

There are other traditions that guests are bringing with them. One discovered a custom, dating back to the early Middle Ages, of adding fish to the seder table in commemoration of Miriam, the sister of Moses. According to the interpretation she showed me, the meat on the seder plate recalls Moses, the egg recalls Aaron, and the fish recalls Miriam—together they led Israel out of bondage. Another guest, meanwhile, wants to include “Miriam’s cup” alongside the traditional Elijah’s cup. Miriam’s cup is filled with pure water—a reminder of the rabbinic legend concerning “Miriam’s well,” a wondrous rock that, according to one tradition, miraculously dispensed water on demand during the Israelites’ forty years in the desert.

Certainly, Jewish refugees would have had a place to go. But since nobody at that time seemed to want the Jews, Adolf Hitler felt emboldened to exterminate them. By early 1942, he and his close associates were discussing a “final solution” to the Jewish problem—meaning mass murder. Meeting at Wannsee, in a lakeside neighborhood of Berlin, they spelled out the plan to the heads of Germany’s main ministries. Within months, a series of extermination camps were created at Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek, and Auschwitz—those terrible places you’ve probably heard of—to speed the process through the use of poison gas.

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